In this era where working from home and freelancing from a home office is common, there’s a new challenge to overcome. While working from home can help with the work/life balance, there are times when the kids can tip the scales away from work at exactly the wrong moment. After almost a decade of working from home with kids around, and after speaking with a few similarly challenged friends and colleagues, here are some of our favourite tips.
Everyone remembers the British journalist whose daughter joined in during a live cross. It’s a great example of what can happen when working from home goes a little awry. And while some distractions are inevitable, you can plan to minimise the interruptions.
Establish some ground rules
Set some ground rules and stick to them. For example, if the kids see you with headphones on, they need to know that means you’re on a call and can’t be disturbed unless it’s urgent. Create some easy cues they can see so they can tell when there’s a boundary they ought not cross.
Most kids will understand that when you’re working from home that you need to get actual work done. Firm communication that teaches them about your work day and commitments is key. For example, while I was working yesterday, both my step-sons were home from school. I explained to them that I had an important call and that for those 30 minutes I needed them to keep a little quieter than usual.
Schedule time for work and kids
It may be a work day but if the kids are around you need to make time for them. Plan your day so there’s a mix between work, play and other activities. For example, schedule meal breaks and allow for time every hour to chat, organise an activity or to join in with play time. Although you’re likely to be called away from the schedule, setting expectations lets the kids have something to look forward to throughout the day. For example, my step-sons really like wrestling with me on the floor. So, we have time for that each day. Or, promise to play a board game, kick a ball or watch some of a movie or TV show with them.
Map out the day and plan an activity each hour.
If you’re planning to work from home, have a list of different activities you can use to keep the kids busy. Mix up the indoor and outdoor play – six hours of iPad time is not a good way to encourage healthy life habits. It helps if your kids are into sports or outdoor games but board and role-playing games, crafts, simple science experiments (making a can implode is fun), drawing and story writing are all good ways for kids to express themselves and do something different.
On the work side, if you need an escape hatch with some quiet, why not take calls and process email in the car, where it’s quiet, while it’s parked in the driveway and the kids are playing outside. Or do your admin tasks on a laptop while you’re at the park.
Involve the kids in your work
When you plan your work day, look for opportunities to involve kids in your work. For example, when I think about story ideas I sometimes ask the kids what stories they think are most interesting and why. I get them to read some of my work and ask them to write about things that interest them. That way, we’re working together. If they have a school project, we sit together at the kitchen table and work alongside each other.
What do you do when you’re working from home with the kids around? Do you have some tried and tested tips that work for you? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.